Scenes from a Weekly Market and a Local Village | Seoni, Madhya Pradesh | India



Ask them what their names are”, a father manning a street food stall gently commands her young daughter of not over ten years old. The beaming but shy little girl obliges, “What is your name?” she inquired staring wide-eyed at my friend. “I am Karla and this is Marky and your name is?” answered my ever responsive friend. The young girl smiled before telling us her name “I’m Amara”.


Our local guide and Pench Tree Lodge’s resident Naturalist Chinmay Deshpande explained to us that young girls in the village are always eager to meet foreign travelers – especially English speaking ones because they wanted to practice speaking the language. While Karla talked to Amara, Chinmay further engrossed us with detailed explanation of the various kind of street food being vended by Amara’s father.

The very friendly Amara
Karla even tried making a Jalebi - a sweet food made from all-purpose flour battered in pretzel and soaked in sugar syrup, then dipped to form circular shapes into a deep frying pan. We were at a market in the village of Vijaypani in the Seoni district of the state of Madhya Pradesh. The village is about 15 kilometers from our accommodation the Pench Tree Lodge.

A cook shows us how to make a Jalebi
The Haat or Weekly Market

Just when I thought I’ve seen every concept of markets in Asia, I got introduced to this model of haat souk. A haat is a weekly market prevalent in many rural areas in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. Haat bazaars aren't permanent and are set up on specific days in different places.


In Seoni, haat markets are held in a different village every day. In Vijaypani, traders set up stalls every Tuesday.  Occupying a few blocks of the village near a corn field, the small haat seems to have everything a normal villager would look to purchase for household needs. One row sells fresh vegetables, another one trades poultry produce and seafood while others are for peddling clothes, spices, and even jewelries.


Like all markets you can hear loud haggling that raises decibel levels whenever vendors starts competing with each other. "70 rupees one kilo onion" a hawker would yell to attract the attention of a buyer and another one would offer a lower price by bawling out a better deal "60 rupees onion one kilo".


It was like the rural version of a Sotheby’s auction house – only more colorful and animated.  What fascinated me is their practice of using old weighing scale wherein you have to balance your procured items with a 1 kilo, 2 kilo and up to 5 kilo stone, to know the exact weight of your purchases.

Chinmay, demoing to us how to use the stone weighing scale
Sarra-Hirri Village of the Gondi Tribe

On our way back from the haat to Pench Tree Lodge, Chinmay took us to the Sarra-Hirri Village, which is located along our route. This small town is inhabited by the people belonging to the Gondi Tribe.


The Gondi people spreads across the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Orissa in India. They are considered as part of the "Scheduled Tribes" of India - a classification given to "historically disadvantaged people in India" [1]


Ethnic groups belonging to the Scheduled Tribes classification used to form the lowest part of Hindu Society, therefore modern literature referring to them as "untouchables". Thanks to the new constitution effected after the Independence of India, tribes classified as Scheduled Tribes and Castes were allowed political representation and has since achieved 'Positive Discrimination'. This means tribe members can pursue education and allowed employment to government and private organizations.


It was almost sunset as evidenced by the rays of the sun emitting sparkling sheen at the tips of golden corn fields, when we arrived at their small village. The village sits in the middle of a long winding road verged by lush paddies of rice and corn. 


At first we only saw a few mothers mingling outside and a few kids fetching water from the neighborhood well. As soon as they caught sight of us, more people came out of their house eager to socialize with us.

Through Chinmay who acted as our interpreter, we learned quite a few things about their way of life. The mothers all wear their traditional clothes of sari and Patiala salwar. Appearing very colorful and tasteful, both the sari and the Patiala are the favorite of the village women because of its comfort and coolness to the body even during summertime.


Even in this modern times, the Gondi tribe still live in their own traditional houses made of clay and roofed with shingles or ‘kavelu’. Outside each home, you can see their farm and poultry animals such as cows, goats and chickens lazily lounging around.


After entertaining the kids who crowded us and asked for group selfies on our phones, we bade them goodbye before pedaling back to our place.


What seems to be a simple exploration of the countryside surrounding Pench Tree Lodge ended up as a very absorbing and educational bicycle tour, about facets of local culture as well as the way of life of the Gondi people.